Picasso for lunch

Maggie and I had Picasso for lunch today. Not literally – we went to the Hungarian National Gallery in the middle of the day, when it would be least crowded. We didn’t expect a retrospective – there was a little bit of almost every phase of his career: student paintings; Blue Period; cubism; harlequins; huge constructions and deconstructions of wives and lovers; ceramics; sculptures; and finally little bitty pen and ink sketches he did at 80. Absolutely overwhelming, especially on an empty stomach. There’s also a huge collection of Hungarian art in the museums’ permanent collection. The ticket price is pretty reasonable,  so we may have to go back.

The highlight of the day for us was the exhibit of the Russian avant garde artists from 19010-1920. We knew nothing about the Russian avant garde, which is why we wanted to see it. The exhibit is from the Ekaterinburg Museum of Fine Arts, which is about 1000 miles east of Moscow, so it’s safe to say we weren’t going to get another chance to see it.

It turns out that Wassily Kandinski and Sergei Eisenstein were part of the Russian avant garde movement, so there were two familiar names, anyway. Other than that, it was all new to us. We were impressed by the variety of styles, some unique to Russia, but a lot of them mirroring Cezanne, Picasso, Matisse and others.  There was more freedom of expression allowed than we would have thought, even after the Communist revolution. (Part of that freedom was due to some pieces having been hidden in the network of caves under Buda, so they were preserved from Stalin’s attempts to destroy them.)

Two paintings from the exhibit,“Jewish Venus” by Mikhail Larionov and “Suprematist No. 38” by Kazimir Malevich

A big part of the exhibit was devoted to film, where they told a little about the film makers and showed clips of the movies, a lot of them documentaries. Some of the scenes were heartbreaking: children scavenging through garbage to find something edible; other children as thin as inmates of a Nazi death camp. Those were contrasted that with the Russian propaganda of the time, showing  happy peasants toiling away at a bountiful harvest – a complete lie that hid the famine caused by Stalin’s collectivization of the farms.

We came away with a broader understanding of the Russian people, but saddened thinking what would have been possible if all of this human potential hadn’t been crushed by the Communists.


Picasso for lunch

Slow Travel

Ever since I became an adult and started thinking about where to spend my two-week vacation, I’ve wanted something different. I’ve wanted to stay someplace for a while; long enough to get a feel for the rhythm of the place, to get a taste of what it’s like to actually live there.

Americans don’t normally travel like that. Our thing is more like the quick overview. Log as many sights as possible, take pictures of everything and wait until you see the pictures to know what you’ve done. There’s an old movie called “If It’s Tuesday this Must be Belgium” about some Americans doing a guided tour of Europe. It’s satire, naturally but like all satire there’s some truth to it.

Maggie and I saw that in real life on one of our favorite vacations. We were still working, but we decided we’d take our two weeks and see just a little bit of Provence. We wouldn’t see everything, but what we saw, we’d see really well. We spent several days in Fontvieille, a little village that has nothing of interest, except it’s centrally located between several tourist destinations: Arles (scene of paintings by Renoir, Van Gogh and others), Saint-Rémy-de-Provence (where Van Gogh was hospitalized), The Luberon (Peter Mayle‘s adopted home), The Carmargue, a huge wetlands, and many others. We used Fontvieille as a base to spend a day in each place, and felt bad that a day didn’t do them justice. Even then, we didn’t spend all our time touring. We spent one entire day by the hotel pool, eating snacks we’d bought at the local market, reading and watching the Americans rush in and out. We saw a dentist from Chicago  dash out in the morning,  his family in tow, then drag back in the evening, waving his arms and shouting, “There’s nothing to see in this country! We drove through Arles, Saint Remy, the Luberon, the Carmargue, and saw nothing! I don’t get why people come here!” They must have put a couple of hundred miles on the car. It’s no wonder they didn’t see anything – they had to drive at top speed to hit all of those places, probably eat lunch in the car while Provence flashed by their windows. Maggie and I looked at each other, shrugged and went back to our books. Poor sap. He saw everything and missed it completely.

What we’ve discovered with slow travel is that you get to pick and choose the sights you see: you can see the countryside when the weather is good; go to the art museum on Wednesday, when it’s not crowded; on Mondays, when the museums are closed, you can go to the local market, stroll the historic district, or have a picnic in the park. Since you’re not trying to see as many destinations, you can pause to observe the things you do see, so you come away with a real appreciation for the place. You can leave the camera in the room sometimes, so you can walk around and notice things that you might have missed otherwise. You also save a lot on housing, since you’re renting by the week instead of by the night.

Now that we’ve quit our day jobs, we’re able to take this to the next level: renting by the month. Let me tell you, this is great. We’re getting to know our neighbors a little; the people who work at the local stores and restaurants recognize us (and let’s not kid ourselves, the local bartenders are happy to see us, too). This was worth working all of these years – at our jobs and at our marriage, so we have the time to spend and have somebody that actually wants to spend this much  time together. I could have never wanted anything more.

Slow Travel

Hungarian Home Cooking

Monday Morning (4/25) and all is well here in Budapest.  We decided to make the most of a cold, dreary day and did our “chores” – laundry and grocery shopping.  Laundry is so easy staying at an apartment instead of a hotel.  Went to “Central Market” for the usual foods we needed, and came home and loaded our small refrigerator with the goodies.

One of my weird observations of doing chores in a foreign city is that I am never bored with grocery shopping or cooking, and given that we are spending only a month here I actually look forward to it.

clockAccording to our funky clock in the apartment, it was time to cook in this dinky kitchen.  I decided that an easy meal was an Italian Frittata.  Easy?  At home yes, but I am still getting use to this “interesting” stove.  You have to light it with matches, and there are no degrees marked on the front of the stove so I just have to guess at the temperature. I think it worked because dinner was delicious.


I took eggs, salt/pepper, basil, paprika (this is Hungary!), tomatoes, cheese (2 kinds), and asparagus, and dinner was a success.  We also shared some good crusty Hungarian bread.




And the best part was not the


Frittata …..it was!!!!


Clay dishes

that Clay did the dishes while I poured myself a glass of Hungarian Rosé .  Yes, Hungarian.  Surprisingly good as long as you make sure it is labeled as “dry”.

I could get used to Budapest.



Hungarian Home Cooking

Nice in Budapest

Nice, France that is.

I think Maggie and I stumbled across a film crew shooting for the movie The Queen of Spain. (Starring Cary Elwes and Penélope Cruz, but we didn’t see either of them.) We were walking by one of Budapest’s amazing old train stations and saw a steam engine puffing away. Maggie said, “get a picture!” I barely had time to get out an “aaas youuu wiiiish” over my shoulder as I ran off. It was a hoot watching this old thing blow smoke and steam (and one time set off a bright orange flash and a loud bang – don’t know what that was all about).

I caught a picture of one of the actors – I don’t know who it was. We may have to wait for the movie to come out, unless somebody can identify him.


 Apparently the scene they were shooting involves the train leaving the station, because they kept running it back and forth for as long as we stood there.. I took a short video of the train starting out,  but WordPress doesn’t let you post videos unless you’re paying for the service. If you’re interested, you can see the video and more pictures on my Flickr site.

Nice in Budapest

Music, Music, Music…

Budapest-SpringFestival0069It’s the Spring Festival in Budapest, and there’s music everywhere. The events cover opera, jazz, classical, choral, dance, spoken word, Hungarian folk music, percussion and indefinable acts like Igudesman and Joo. There are three to six performances a night for two weeks. As usual with this kind of thing, there are other performances around the main events, so there is music everywhere you go. If we’d known how good the festival was, we would have planned our trip around it. Maybe we’ll get the chance to do that another year – but whether we do or not, I would recommend it to anybody who is interested in coming here. In a city of two million, it’s a manageable size. You don’t get the crowds and craziness that you get with some festivals, like SXSW in Austin.

So far we’ve heard a classical quartet in a cathedral and a performance of folk music and dancing. Maggie got a good shot of that on her phone.


We got here in the middle of the festival. This week we planned on taking in a couple of choral groups, maybe an operetta and possibly some jazz, but we got here too late and a lot of the good tickets are gone. We are still getting to see some good acts, among them The Moon Opera, which is actually a dance setting of a book about the players in a Chinese opera. Not having seen a lot of dance performances, we went in with no expectations. It was a huge surprise to us that we were captivated immediately, profoundly moved, and at the end of the performance, we were hungry for more. Sunday we have tickets for a choral presentation of the music of Béla Bartók. We can’t wait.

To me, that’s what travel is all about: we got to experience something we wouldn’t have if we had stayed home.We have some great memories – not to mention our eyes, ears and minds have been opened just a little.


Music, Music, Music…

Typical Day

Clay and I have finally gotten into sink with the rhythm of day-to-day living here in Budapest.  When we get up for the simple fact that Clay gets up earlier, he has fallen into the role of Mr. daily coffee maker.  Our first hours of the day are breakfast and catching up on the news from the States.

We usually choose 1 major thing to do each day because that works well for us.  If we try to cram to much into a day, it leaves no time for sitting at a coffee shop reading or in some cases finding interesting things in route to that “1 major thing”.  I can not tell you the number of times that we say to each other that a month in one city is the best way to see a city.  When we were working full time and traveling 4-7 days was our norm.  Being retired that has stretched from a minimum of 1 week to 1 month.  Being retired has been the happiest time in our marriage and that is saying a lot because we have had some wildly happy times.

Before leaving the apartment, we check our google maps and physical maps (they still make them!) for the best route.  We have become so efficient with the tram, buses, and metro that it is a piece of cake to get to anywhere in this city.  Sometimes we just walk too.  We are averaging about 15K steps a day since arriving!!  Up until last night we actually were eating fairly healthy since we are eating many meals at our apartment.  I enjoy the food market here so much that cooking in a different kitchen is pretty darn fun.

When we do eat out we generally go to local restaurants and pubs in our neighborhood.  The owner of our apartment recommended that we check our his favorite Hungarian style restaurant – Paprika.  We went last night and ate until we were so miserable from the heavy, but delicious food.   Paying penitence we walked part of the way home instead of the bus all the way.  Check out a few photos from last night’s indulgence.




Typical Day

Soup Lady

The nickname actually came from an Austin café near the Austin Visitor Center.  The employees called me the “soup lady” because I always ordered the soup, but never a sandwich.  I think my fascination with soup came from my Mother’s homemade vegetable soup which she made every summer from our bountiful garden that my Daddy so lovingly planted and tended during the day.  He worked the 2nd shift at Goodyear in Decatur, Alabama so spent a lot of daylight hours babying his garden.  Mother would can what we couldn’t eat, and winter to me was special with warm soups.

When I sent to work at Motorola in Austin, I would go to the cafeteria order 2 soups instead of a soup/salad combination.  My friend, Kathy, actually was amused by this and we still occasionally mention it in conversation.

Imagine my surprise when I got to Budapest and learned that it is the self-proclaimed soup capital of Europe.  Soup is on all the menus I have seen – not just one or two but several.  Also, there are soup food trucks, and restaurants like the one below that sell only soups.  I have even gotten Clay to stopping for a bowl of soup with me for a quick lunch.  One of my favorite places is just around the corner from our apartment.

As you can see a bowl of soup is 490 HUF which is about $1.79 using today’s exchange rate.  Cheap lunch!  Long live soup!!


Soup Lady

Katalin Karády

This plaque is on the front of our building. Somebody added the wreaths today.


The plaque says that our building was a former residence of Hungarian film star Katalin Karády, the suppressed film star. After a little research, we found that Katalin Karády was famous in Hungary in the 1930’s and early 40’s as an actress and singer. She often played femmes fatales, and her personal life was somewhat scandalous as well, with rumors flying about her conquests and orientation. Her acting was compared to Rita Hayworth, Barbara Stanwick, Jane Russell and Greta Garbo.

Outside of Hungary, Karády is known for resisting the Nazi occupation of Hungary. She used her homes to shelter Jews in preparation for their escape from the occupied countries. The Gestapo arrested and tortured her, but after three months she was rescued by well-connected friends. During the massacre of the Jews at the Danube, she used her own money and jewelry to buy the lives  of several people who were about to be executed by the Arrow Cross. She took several children into her home and kept them there until the end of hostilities. For this she is recognized as Righteous among the Nations by the Israeli Yad Vashem Institute.

After the war, the Soviet occupiers also suppressed her talents, banning her movies and preventing her from earning a living by acting or singing. She emigrated to the West, eventually finding her way to New York, where she made a living selling hats. She died there in 1990, and in 1991 her ashes were returned to her home country for burial in the artists’ plot in the Farkasréti cemetery, just outside of Budapest.

Katalin Karády’s films are available on DVD in Hungary, where she is still remembered for her style, her talent, and her rare courage.

Katalin Karády


Yesterday was one of those unplanned days that are the benefit of staying in one place for more than a couple of days. Not having an agenda, we set out to figure out the bus system and make reservations at Paprika, a restaurant that’s across town from our apartment. We could have made the reservation over the phone, of course, but we needed to try out our new metro passes.

But first, breakfast: we stopped by New York Bagels, which is right around the corner from our apartment, and while eating had a conversation with some young travelers, one of whom was Irish. He gave us his view on how to see his home country best: spend a few days in Dublin, then hire a car and drive around the island along or near the coast. That’s an interesting idea that we hadn’t thought of – we have some time to work on it, but that’s a good starting point.

We had our brand new 30-day metro passes, which had been surprisingly easy to get. If you research this online, you’ll through multiple web sites with partial explanations of how to get a pass that’s good for more than 72 hours. We had been told that the ticket sellers only spoke Hungarian, the 30-day pass was only for Budapest residents, and all sorts of other lugubrious stories. We tried it out anyway, and discovered that all you have to do is go to the ticket office in a main metro station and ask for one. Their English is a little rough – you have to speak slowly and clearly – but if you smile a lot, say “good morning” and let them go through their mysterious procedure, it’s easy.

We found the nearest the right bus route and nearest bus stop using a combination of the Budapest metro’s Android app and Google maps, waited 10 minutes to catch our bus, and were at our destination in about 15 minutes. (It would have been faster to take the subway, but the view is better on the bus.) We walked about a half mile along a park, found the restaurant (which is beautiful – more on that later) and made our reservations.

On the way back, we decided to walk back to the bus stop through the park instead of back along city streets. It turns out that the restaurant is across from Városliget (Budapest City Park), which is home to miles of walking and biking trails, two art museums, thermal baths, a zoo, a circus, a castle, flower gardens, a lake and Hero’s Square – a UNESCO World Heritage site that’s a  monument to the history of Hungary.

Castle and baths


car boat

Boating on the lake

Unfortunately, we needed to get back in time for a performance of Hungarian folk music that night, so we only had time for a pretty quick stroll around the park. We decided to come back on Wednesday so we could spend the day before dinner at Paprika.


Budapest – Saturday Morning

Saturday morning in Budapest which appears to be emerging into a beautiful day – sunny and high of 74 ºFDoing laundry this morning at our apartment before exploring this afternoon so taking time now to post some observations about Budapest.

First of all we love our apartment and its location.  We are on the Pest side of Budapest and very close to the Elizabeth Bridge and the Central Market for those that have been here before.  If you zoom out a little from the Google map, you will get a better feel for where we are calling home for the next month.

Below if a photo of the Elizabeth Bridge in the background and a statue of the former Queen of Hungary, Erzsebet. This was taken on our walking journey Friday which totaled over 21K steps (approx. 9 ½ miles).  We rode on the Metro for the first time from Pest over to the end of the line in Buda and walked back to Pest.  Wonderful stroll through parks, saw numerous interesting statues, and had lunch at an outdoor restaurant.  Spotting the bridge, we knew our long journey back to Pest was over.  Exhausting & exhilarating at the same time.


The price of everything appears to be much lower than the U.S.  We bought a Metro pass yesterday for $35.00/each which is good for 30 days!  We have a couple of local pubs near our apartment where beer was only $1.85 for a pint of beer!  We were a little surprised that in some tourist pubs it was about $4.00/pint so we are sticking to local places for beer or wine.

Another observation is that one can still see the Russian influence from post WWII days.  On Monday we plan to go to see the Russian statues at Memento Park.  There are numerous statues from the years of Communist control here (1949-1989).  Just strolling through a major street near us you see stalls full of Russian hats and paraphernalia.

More later – hopefully from Clay too!


Budapest – Saturday Morning